Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, thought Albert Einstein.
This is what has been happening when it comes to child care public policy and investment. Successive governments have talked about record investments in early learning and child care programs. But little changed for parents struggling to find affordable services for their children. In New Brunswick about 20% of children aged 0-12 have access to regulated care and fees average $500 to $600 per month. For too many families, child care fees are like having a second mortgage.
If governments continue to invest in child care through the old parent eligibility model, very little will change. Good public policy is so much more than about creating spaces. It is also about having accountability criteria with this funding. Accountability criteria to lower parent fees, increase staff wages and training and develop sustainable, community-owned and community-delivered spaces. It is about ensuring that adequate government funding is directed towards programs and not parents.
This election, three of the four political parties have taken a position regarding child care, acknowledging that there are not enough regulated child care spaces and that affordability is a problem. The question remains, will our political parties have the vision to really change their approach to child care policy and funding.
One new idea circulated during this election campaign raises concerns. It is the proposal that grandparent care is part of a government-funded child care system. Grandparent care, like all close family caring relationships, is in the private sphere in which family members willingly care for their own loved ones. This approach to child care places an undue burden on grandparents to shoulder the lack of child care options in New Brunswick.
What will be next – paying New Brunswickers to care for their own aged parents as an alternative to a range of services? Evidence simply does not support this approach to public investment in early childhood education and child care policy. It is for good reason that other governments haven’t chosen this way to spend their early childhood education dollars.
I invite New Brunswickers to treat this election like a job interview and to interview their electoral candidates. Let’s remember – the MLAs we elect work for us. Let’s hire candidates that are willing to plan, develop and deliver the child care services that NB children and families need and deserve. Also let’s make sure that they have a plan that will actually work and is based on evidence.
Jody Dallaire is the Chairperson of the New Brunswick Child Care Coalition, a non-partisan organization working to improve access and affordability to quality and publicly funded child care programs.